We teach an introductory course called Biblical Concepts of Leadership at Davis College, all the while acknowledging that the Bible is not meant as a textbook on leadership per se. Indeed, the self-attesting purpose of Scripture is “ . . . to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). That’s it. God gave us the Bible because we’ve all sinned, severed ourselves from Him, and now we need to be made right with Him. If anything, and with more than a little irony, the Bible is a primer on how to follow, not how to lead.
Still, the Bible is applicable to the study of leadership, as to all things: “All Scripture is . . . useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16). It’s like a “halo” effect—as Scripture addresses our sanctification, it begins to impact most everything we do, including the ways we lead. Leadership will have been done well when it has been carried out by righteous people gifted and/or trained to lead, and who do so as a good work for God alone.
So as we engage in leadership studies at Davis, we look to the Scriptures more for application than for any kind of directive. Few if any Bible passages serve as “proof texts” on leadership, as giving God’s direct and final word on that subject. Instead, we must do the hard work of contextualizing a given text to our role as leaders, building bridges from the Bible story to our story, moving from the general (e.g., righteousness) to the particular (righteous leadership). Outside the pastoral epistles, at least, we mind patterns of leadership more than precepts.
Of course, there are good and bad examples of leadership in the Bible. Invariably, we find ourselves disagreeing over the rightness or wrongness of the choices made by otherwise exemplary men or women of God. That is why some of us, upon reading the story of Gideon, will set out “fleeces” as a way of arriving at key decisions, and others of us will not. And maybe that is okay. Perhaps we are allowed to lead differently, in step with our individual giftedness, in keeping with the measure of faith God has bestowed upon us, and in view of the situation for which we must lead. At least I’d like to think that’s how it works. What are your thoughts?
Dr. Charles J. Colton lectures in Systematic Theology and New Testament at Davis College in Johnson City, New York, where he also chairs the Organizational Leadership Program. He is a member of the Main Street Baptist Church in Binghamton, New York, and is the author of Core Christianity: The Tie That Binds.